Sunday, August 3, 2008

Solzhenitsyn's short, brilliant aesthetic statement; honoring the most famous lecture of late Solzhenitsyn

With the passing of Russian Nobel Laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (obit here, and here), it is only fitting for me to praise a short hardback book I found at a used book store years ago -- perhaps the smallest hardcover with a dust jacket that I had seen to date.

Solzhenitsyn's Nobel Lecture on Literature stimulated my mind, blessed me, invigorated me. The book is still one of my greatest treasures. He was not able to deliver the lecture in person -- another cruelty in his life.

Here are some excerpts from Solzhenitsyn's lecture that I have kept in a separate file of quotations that are important to me:

And even more, much more than this: whole countries and continents repeat each other's mistakes after a while; it can happen even now, in an age when, it would seem, everything is clearly visible and obvious! No indeed: what some peoples have already suffered, considered, and rejected suddenly turns up among others as the last and newest word.

The artist is only given to sense more keenly than others the harmony of the world and all the beauty and savagery of man's contribution to it -- and to communicate this poignantly to people.

It is in vain to affirm that which the heart does not confirm.

Art opens even the chilled, darkened heart to high spiritual experience. Through the instrumentality of art we are sometimes sent – vaguely, briefly – insights which logical processes of thought cannot attain.

However, there is a special quality in the essence of beauty, a special quality in the status of art: the conviction carried by a genuine work of art is absolutely indisputable and tames even the strongly opposed heart.

One can construct a political speech, an assertive journalistic polemic, a program for organizing society, a philosophical system, so that in appearance it is smooth, well structured, and yet it is built upon a mistake, a lie; and the hidden element, the distortion, will not immediately become visible. And a speech, or a journalistic essay, or a program rebuttal, or a different philosophical structure can be counterposed to the first – and it will seem just as well constructed and as smooth, and everything will seem to fit. And therefore one has faith in them – yet one has no faith.

In contrast, a work of art bears within itself its own confirmation: concepts which are manufactured out of whole cloth or overstrained will not stand up to being tested in images, will somehow fall apart and turn out to be sickly and pallid and convincing to no one.

Works steeped in truth and presenting it to us vividly alive will take hold of us, will attract us to themselves with great power – and no one ever, even in a latter age, will presume to negate them. And so perhaps that old trinity of Truth, Good and Beauty is not just the outworn formula it used to seem to use during our heady, materialistic youth. If the crests of these three trees join together, as the investigators and explorers used to affirm, and if the too obvious, too straight branches of Truth and Good are crushed or amputated and cannot reach the light – yet perhaps the whimsical, unpredictable, unexpected branches of Beauty will make their way through and soar up TO THAT VERY PLACE and in this way perform the work of all three.

Solzhenitsyn, a great artistic and prophetic voice, falls silent in the hour we might need him the most.

-Colin Foote Burch

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